The king is not always right

We have had a few recommendations for things to do in Stockholm. One of the most often recommended has been the Vasa Museum. While it was open when we first arrived in Sweden, it closed, following government guidelines, before we could visit. Then, last week, they announced they were re-opening. And so, today, we visited what is now one of my top five museum visits ever.

The ship, completed in 1628, was the brainchild of King Gustav II Adolf (the King who died on my birthday), a man who knew what he wanted and knew how to order people to do it. He supplied the measurements and told the shipyard at Shepsholmen to build it. From Poland, mind you because that’s where he was at the time.

The shipbuilder, Henrik Hybertsson, was in charge at the shipyard and took up the task of building four new ships, including the Vasa. Then, only a year into the work, he up and died. The build was taken up by Henrik Jacobsson.

The ship was a monumental work of art. It had an extraordinary amount of detailed carvings awash with symbolism and heroic myth. The stern, in particular, was unbelievably ornate.

Above is just the stern. The carvings were all over the outside of the ship. Incidentally, the ship above is the very detailed model which sits port side of the real Vasa.

So, while the King was leading his army in Poland, he demanded that Vasa be ready to sail ASAP. No ifs, no buts, no maybes. So the dockyard worked around the clock to make it happen. And, on 10 August 1628, she was ready for her maiden voyage. But was she? Really?

There were a few voices that spoke up to say she wasn’t stable enough; that she’d not withstand a breath of wind. She was too top heavy. She didn’t have enough ballast. Neptune wasn’t keen on so much ornamentation. The Captain, Söfring Hansson, even had the crew run from side to side before it left the dock to show how unstable it was. Sadly, none of the voices were loud enough and the Vasa left her dock and set off across the waters of Stockholm.

They say there was a huge crowd of 10,000 people lining the shores to see the magnificent ship take her first tentative steps. The crowd included ordinary Stockholmers as well as dignitaries and spies from all over the world. What they saw was probably a bit more disappointing than what most of them were expecting. Except the spies.

It was not exactly windy but a slight breeze was enough to start Vasa rocking. Then, a second gust, saw her keel over and sink. It was all a bit dramatic, not least for the 30 people who went down with it and never resurfaced. Like this chap:

Above is Gustav. He was 40-45 and 160cm tall. He was one of the recovered skeletons which have had faces modelled on the skulls. The real names are unknown and each face created has been alphabetically named by the museum.

So, Vasa was on the Stockholm seabed. And so it remained for 330 years. Not the cannon though. A lot of the cannon was salvaged pretty soon after she went down. A diving bell was used and around 50 were recovered. There was also an early attempt to recover the ship but this was unsuccessful.

Then, in 1961, the first bits of Vasa came to the surface and, eventually, the entire ship was lifted and moved to the purpose built museum where we saw it today.

Photos can’t really do it justice. The size, the detail, the extraordinary sight of this massive ship is breathtaking. Not to mention the fact that someone worked out how to lift it up out of the mud and make a museum. That someone was Anders Franzén, a man determined to find the ship. Which he did.

The museum has a number of floors which rise around and circle the ship. This photo is taken from the penultimate floor. It’s an attempt to show the Vasa with a few humans for scale.

We’ve seen quite a few things since coming to Sweden but the Vasa is the most amazing. It’s both an incredible testimony to the people who built her and the people who retrieved her. The museum should definitely be on everyone’s list, bucket or otherwise.

Somewhere else which is well worth a visit is the Spirit Museum. Not that I can comment on the actual museum but the brunch there is superb. This was a recommendation from our dog minder’s partner, Marcus. And what an excellent recommendation it was.

There’s a set brunch menu – three small and diverse entrees, a choice from three main courses and a light dessert. And it’s delicious and not too much. Rather than feeling stuffed for the rest of the day, we were just sufficiently filled. The trout was particularly good.

So, we had another brilliant day in Stockholm which was equalled only by the equally amazing weather. Actually, the weather had brought out a lot more people. As I said to Mirinda, it’s as if Stockholm has awakened, gradually filling up each week we visit.

A woman we spoke to in a nearby park agreed that it was relief from the long, dark winter. Come the Spring and the Swedes emerge, bleary eyed and ready for the returning life. She also claimed that summer in Stockholm is the best anywhere.

She had two black poodles which reminded us of Carmen and Day-z so, naturally we had to stop and chat. She asked us the usual “Why come to Sweden? The weather is awful and the people unfriendly.” Which, equally as usual, we countered with the facts that we loved the weather and had only come across friendly Swedes. Including her.

It’s an odd thing that Swedes think they’re unfriendly. I hate to contradict them but it’s just not true. Maybe they are to other Swedes but all the ones we’ve met have been nothing but friendly to these two Australians. Sometimes before they find out we’re Australian.

So, another wonderful weekend visit to Stockholm, the first weekend in shorts. For me, at least. I’m hoping it’s not the last.

I’ll end this post with the end of the Vasa. Quite appropriate, I think.

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